The number of workers in Scotland taking employers to task over unfair pay and conditions has seen a five-fold increase after the UK Government was forced to scrap controversial employment tribunal fees.

More than 8,500 extra cases were lodged in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2017 - prompting claims the tribunal service is becoming "overwhelmed" by the influx.

The fee regime, which saw employees paying up to £1200 to lodge a case, was scrapped in July last year following a Supreme Court ruling that the charges were unlawful and unfair.

Since then claims have been pouring in, with single claims (involving one claimant) in Scotland increasing from 712 to 3,658 - a rise of more than 400 per cent.

Trade union UNISON, which led the fight against the fees at the Supreme Court, said the increase showed just how vital free access to justice is for workers.

Peter Hunter, of UNISON Scotland, said: "The rise in tribunal cases is evidence of the importance of UNISON's historic win over the Tory government.

"Work can be unfair and workers need free access to justice. On top of that, most of the additional cases in Scotland are equal pay and we are right down the middle of that - rooting out discrimination.

"The rise in equal pay cases is particularly appropriate since it was equal pay in Dumfries & Galloway that the Supreme Court used as an example of how free access to justice for one worker seeking pay equality brings benefit for many thousands.

"The judges were right in their analysis back in 2017 and this data shows how big landmark cases reverberate in workplaces across the entire country."

When the fees were introduced in July 2013, The Herald reported a drop in cases of almost 70 per cent year on year.

This prompted claims from employment experts that thousands of workers, especially women, who had been unfairly sacked or discriminated against, were being denied access to justice.

The current figures from the UK Government show a complete turnaround, with equal pay cases - including a large scale claim against Glasgow City Council - accounting for the bulk of the cases with an increase of 360 per cent.

Unfair dismissal claims also increased by 84 per cent over the period, while sex discrimination claims went up by almost 50 per cent and disability discrimination claims almost doubled.

Brian McLaughlin, an employment lawyer with Unionline Scotland, which represents members of the GMB and Communications Workers Union, said: "This is a significant increase which is obviously welcomed by Unionline Scotland and the GMB and CWU trade unions.

"These fees were a barrier to justice which created a significant problem for unfairly treated employees for the best part of four years.

"This upsurge in cases shows that the fees were a clear denial of access to justice."

Jim Stephenson, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Access to Justice committee, added that the increase showed "a very real need for an accessible, impartial system to resolve workplace disputes".

While David Martyn, an employment specialist with Thompsons solicitors, claimed that the fees proved to be a "massive disincentive" for workers.

"For someone who was only claiming say £3000, and having to pay out £1200 in upfront fees, the risk to reward ratio really didn't make any economic sense," he said.

He also claimed that the scrapping of the fees has had a "significant impact" on the employment tribunal service in Scotland, which he described as "stretched".

A total of 11 new judges have been appointed in Scotland to meet the increased demand for hearings, while several tribunal rooms at the main hearing centre in Glasgow, which were converted into office space while the fee regime was in place, have had to be reinstated.

Mr Martyn said: "The tribunal service is struggling to cope, it was almost inevitable when the fees were stopped. The staff are doing their very best but they're certainly stretched."

These concerns were echoed by employment specialist Stephen Miller, of Clyde & Co, who claimed the tribunal service "has been overwhelmed by the numbers".

He added that the increase in claims would also result in businesses and organisations facing significant costs in defending the actions.